Misery River

(Woyzeck theatre version, 2000: Carnival Announcer with entire cast in prologue)(1)

Carnival Announcer: "Ladies and gentlemen here you see the astronomical horse and the two little canary birds - favorites of all potentates and of all crowned heads, tell the people everything, how old, how many children, what illnesses."

Gentlemen! Gentlemen! Look at this creature, as God made it: nothing, nothing at all. 

Misery's the River of the World
Misery's the River of the World
Misery's the River of the World

The higher that the monkey can climb(2)
The more he shows his tail
Call no man happy 'til he dies(3)
There's no milk at the bottom of the pail
God builds a church
The devil builds a chapel(4)
Like the thistles that are growing
'round the trunk of a tree
All the good in the world
You can put inside a thimble
And still have room for you and me

If there's one thing you can say
About Mankind
There's nothing kind about man
You can drive out nature with a pitchfork
But it always comes roaring back again

Carnival Announcer: "Gentlemen, now see the effect of art. The monkey is already a soldier - that is not much, it is the lowest level of the human race! The little dummy is musical. Gentlemen this animal that you see here, with a tail on his body, with his four hooves, is a member of all learned societies, professor of our university, with whom the students learn to ride and fight. Man - you are created of dust, sand and dirt. Do you want to be more than dust, sand and dirt? Observe the progress of civilization. Everything progresses: a horse, a monkey, a canary bird. The commencement of the commencement is starting now!"

The higher that the monkey can climb
The more he shows his tail
Call no man happy 'til he dies
There's no milk at the bottom of the pail

God tempers all the winds
for the new shorn lambs(5)
the devil knows the bible
like the back of his hand

All the good in the world
You can put inside a thimble
And still have room for you and me

If there's one thing you can say
About Mankind
There's nothing kind about man
You can drive out nature with a pitchfork
But it always comes roaring back again

For want of a bird
The sky was lost
For want of a nail
A shoe was lost
For want of a life
A knife was lost
For want of a toy
A child was lost(6)

Misery's the River of the World
Everybody Row! Everybody Row!
Misery's the River of the World
Misery's the River of the World
Misery's the River of the World
Everybody Row! Everybody Row!
Everybody Row

As published in the Woyzeck songbook (Betty Nansen Teatret, 2000)
Spoken word as published in 2002 tour Woyzeck songbook (English translation by Betty Nansen Teatret)
Written by: Tom Waits/ Kathleen Waits-Brennan
Published by Jalma Publishing (ASCAP), 2000
Further reading: Woyzeck Full Story



Misery River

(Woyzeck theatre version, 2000: Margret closing scene)(1)

Misery's the river of the world
Misery's the river of the world

The higher that the monkey can climb(2)
The more he shows his tail
Call no man happy 'till he dies(3)
There's no milk at the bottom of the pail

God builds a church
The devil builds a chapel(4)
Like the thistles that are growing
'round the trunk of a tree

All the good in the world
You can put inside a thimble
And still have room for you and me

If there's one thing you can say
About mankind
There's nothing kind about man
You can drive out nature with a pitch fork
But it always comes roaring back again

Misery's the river of the world
Misery's the river of the world
Misery's the river of the world

For want of a bird
The sky was lost
For want of a nail
A shoe was lost
For want of a life
A knife was lost
For want of a toy
A child was lost(6)

Misery's the river of the world
Misery's the river of the world
Everybody row! Everybody row!

Misery's the river of the world
Misery's the river of the world
Everybody row! Everybody row!

Everybody row! Everybody row!
Everybody row!

As published in the Woyzeck songbook (Betty Nansen Teatret, 2000)
Written by: Tom Waits/ Kathleen Waits-Brennan
Published by: Jalma Publishing (ASCAP), 2000
Further reading: Woyzeck Full Story



Misery River

(Blood Money studio version, 2002)

The higher that the monkey can climb(2)
The more he shows his tail
Call no man happy 'till he dies(3)
There's no milk at the bottom of the pail

God builds a church
The devil builds a chapel(4)
Like the thistles that are growing
'round the trunk of a tree

All the good in the world
You can put inside a thimble
And still have room for you and me

If there's one thing you can say
About mankind
There's nothing kind about man
You can drive out nature with a pitch fork
But it always comes roaring back again

Misery's the river of the world
Misery's the river of the world
Misery's the river of the world

The higher that the monkey can climb
The more he shows his tail
Call no man happy 'till he dies
There's no milk at the bottom of the pail

God tempers all the ruins for the new shorn lands(5)
The devil knows the bible like the back of his hand
All the good in the world
You can put inside a thimble
And still have room for you and me

If there's one thing you can say
About mankind
There's nothing kind about man
You can drive out nature with a pitch fork
But it always comes roaring back again

For want of a bird
The sky was lost
For want of a nail
A shoe was lost
For want of a life
A knife was lost
For want of a toy
A child was lost(6)

And misery's the river of the world
Misery's the river of the world
Everybody row! Everybody row!
Misery's the river of the world

Misery's the river of the world
Misery's the river of the world
Everybody row! Everybody row!
Everybody row! Everybody row!

Misery's the river of the world
Misery's the river of the world
Everybody row! Everybody row!
Everybody row! Everybody row!
Everybody row!

Misery's the river of the world
Misery's the river of the world
Misery's the river of the world
Misery's the river of the world
Everybody row! Everybody row!
Everybody row!

Written by: Tom Waits and Kathleen Waits-Brennan
Published by: Jalma Music (ASCAP), 2000
Official release: Blood Money, Epitaph/ Anti Inc., 2002
Arrangements and lyrics published in "Tom Waits Blood Money" (Amsco Publications, 2002)
Further reading: Woyzeck Full Story



Known covers:
Kazik Staszewski "Piosenki Toma Waitsa". Kazik Staszewski. March, 2003. VIP Production / Luna Music: LUNCD 093-2 (in Polish)


Listen to audio excerpt of Woyzeck intro as performed in the theatre play Woyzeck.
Sung by Lars Knutzon (as carnival announcer).
Betty Nansen theatre. Copenhagen/ Denmark. November 20, 2000.


Low-res video of "Misery River" as featured in the opening scene of "Woyzeck"
Woyzeck/ Betty Nansen theatre promo, 2000
Monkey puppet with Tom Waits' voice from tape

Notes:

(1) Misery River (Early theatre version)
- Sung by Carnival Announcer (and entire cast) in prologue. Sung by Margret in closing scene
- Spoken intro by Margret (in 2006 released as Children's Story on Orphans (Bastards)): "Once upon a time there was a poor child, with no father and no mother. Everything was dead... And no one was left in the whole world. Everything was dead... And it went on search, day and night. And since nobody was left on earth, it wanted to go up to the heavens. And the moon was looking at it so friendly. And when it finally got to the moon, the moon was a piece of rotten wood! And then it went to the sun. And when it got there, the sun was a wilted sunflower. And when it got to the stars, they were little golden flies. Stuck up there! And the shrike(1a) sticks 'em on a blackthorn(1b). And when it wanted to go back, down to earth, the earth was an overturned piss pot. It was all alone, and it sat down and cried. And there it sits till this day. All alone... Misery's the river of the world... .(Transcription by "Pieter from Holland" as published on the Tom Waits Library, 2000)
- Shrike or butcher bird, predatory songbird found in most parts of the world except Australia and South America. The plumage of the European and North American species is mostly gray, black, and white; the tail is long and rounded, and the wings are rather short. Some African species are brilliantly colored. The name butcher bird reflects its habit of impaling its prey-small birds and mammals and large insects-on a thorn or sharp twig before tearing it apart with its strong, tip-hooked beak. North American shrikes include the loggerhead, great gray or northern, and California shrikes. (Source: The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition. 2001)
- Blackthorn: A spreading thorny shrub or small tree (Prunus spinosa), with blackish bark, and bearing little black plums, which are called sloes. Despite their succulent appearance the fruits are far too bitter for human consumption, except as a flavouring in home-made liqueurs

(2) The higher that the monkey can climb: might be inspired by or referring to the classic first-wave ska hit "The Higher the Monkey Climb" (aka "Higher the Monkey Climbs") by Justin Hinds & the Dominoes (1966-1967, produced by Duke Reid). Also mentioned in "Tear Down These Walls" by Scottish Gaele band Runrig (Searchlight: Chrysalis, 1989): "The higher the monkey climbs the more he reveals. Tear down these walls. All men were born the same. You came here with nothing. But naked and a name. A name. Tear down these walls. They keep raising for you."

(3) Call no man happy 'till he dies
- Thomas Sjsvrd (2006): "Ascribed to Solon (ancient Athenian statesman) by Herodotus (the 'father of history'). Herodotus (who probably just relates an older tradition) tells us how Solon, when asked by Croisus who is the happiest man, does not give the answer that Croisus wants. Finally C. asks why he himself doesn't qualify gives a long lecture in which the famous quote. From Herodotus Histories, book 1. chapter XXXII, translated by A. D. Godley: "So, Croesus, man is entirely chance. To me you seem to be very rich and to be king of many people, but I cannot answer your question before I learn that you ended your life well. The very rich man is not more fortunate than the man who has only his daily needs, unless he chances to end his life with all well. Many very rich men are unfortunate, many of moderate means are lucky. The man who is very rich but unfortunate surpasses the lucky man in only two ways, while the lucky surpasses the rich but unfortunate in many. The rich man is more capable of fulfilling his appetites and of bearing a great disaster that falls upon him, and it is in these ways that he surpasses the other. The lucky man is not so able to support disaster or appetite as is the rich man, but his luck keeps these things away from him, and he is free from deformity and disease, has no experience of evils, and has fine children and good looks. If besides all this he ends his life well, then he is the one whom you seek, the one worthy to be called fortunate. But refrain from calling him fortunate before he dies; call him lucky." The part "But refrain from calling him fortunate before he dies" is in the (Ionic (hence k instead of p)) Greek: "prin d' an teleutsi, epischein, mde kaleein k olbion". Even if this phrase could be translated exactly to what Waits sings through the monkey, he does leave the context out, including the part about being lucky (eutuchea). This context is interesting however, as it reminds us of All the world's green: "You turn kings into beggars and beggars into kings", which by the way sounds like another reference (Shakepeare... ?). Sophocles, who is either inspired by Herodotus, or draws from the same sources, has a simpler meaning (closer to Waits') in his play Oedipus Tyrannus (translated by Sir Richard Jebb, 1528-30: "Therefore, while our eyes wait to see the final destined day, we must call no mortal happy until he has crossed life's border free from pain." In the original: "hste thnton onta keinn tn teleutaian idein hmeran episkopounta mden' olbizein, prin an terma tou biou perasi mden algeinon pathn." (Source: message as posted on Tom Waits Library messageboard. December 1, 2006)

(4) God builds a church The devil builds a chapel
- Where God hath a temple, the Devil will have a chapel. Robert Burton. (1577-1640), Anatomy of Melancholy. Part iii. Sect. 4, Memb. 1, Subsect. 1.
- For where God built a church, there the Devil would also build a chapel.-Martin Luther: Table Talk, lxvii.
- God never had a church but there, men say, The Devil a chapel hath raised by some wyles. William Drummond: Posthumous Poems.
- No sooner is a temple built to God but the Devil builds a chapel hard by.-George Herbert: Jacula Prudentum
- Wherever God erects a house of prayer, The Devil always builds a chapel there. Daniel Defoe: The True-born Englishman, part i. line 1. (Source: John Bartlett (1820-1905). Familiar Quotations, 10th ed. 1919.)

(5) God tempers all the ruins for the new shorn lands
Notice these two different transcripts
A: "God tempers all the winds for the new shorn lambs" as transcribed in Woyzeck 2002 tour songbook (translation by Betty Nansen Teatret)
B: "God tempers all the ruins for the new shorn lands" as transcribed in "Tom Waits - Blood Money" 2002 songbook (Amsco Publications)
- God tempers the wind to the shorn lamb: Not a biblical quotation, but attributed to Lawrence Sterne (1713-1768). "Laurence Sterne (Maria, in the Sentimental Journey). In French, "A brebis tondue Dieu lui mesure le vent; " "Dieu mesure le froid la brebis tondue. " "Dieu donne le froid selon la robbe." Sheep are shorn when the cold north-east winds have given way to milder weather (Source: The Dictionary Of Phrase And Fable By E. Cobham Brewer from The New And Enlarged Edition of 1894)

(6) For want of a bird, the sky was lost: This verse is based on the nursery rhyme entitled "For Want Of A Nail" (The Real Mother Goose, 1926) :"For want of a nail, the shoe was lost; For want of the shoe, the horse was lost; For want of the horse, the rider was lost; For want of the rider, the battle was lost; For want of the battle, the kingdom was lost, And all for the want of a horseshoe nail."